27.06.2013 - 27.06.2013
It's really not their fault... The cities are just going about their business while we feel like we are drowning in tourist 'must sees'. I think if the city could tell us what to do it would be 1) find a big market 2) find some hole in the wall authentic restaurants 3) spend your afternoons in cafes, libraries, parks or squares 4) just slow right down - no need to keep up with the hustle and bustle of a city 5) and take time to notice things about the people, animals, noises, etc.
That being said, I need to get up to date and explain why city fatigue has set in.
I left off with us on our way to an Austrian dining hall (called Stiftskeller) for lunch. It was so cool - hugely tall ceilings with balconies looking down over (like an opera house), massive chandeliers, rustic artwork on the walls (exposed wood), long tables with high back chairs and initials of the restaurant engraved on each chair. There were only a few people inside eating as it was such a nice day and the patio was packed. Our waitress comes over and why not start the meal off with an Austrian beer (Derek) and wine (me!). Appetizer - 'Tris', which were 3 huge dumplings (kind of like doughy balls), one spinach, one cheese and one caramel used onion in a butter sauce. Don't think I need to explain how delicious it was! Main courses - (Derek) St. Johannerwurst which are spicy sausages with rye bread and mustard; (Laurie) Weiner schnitzel which is a bread crumbed pork schnitzel served with housemade cranberry jam and parsley potatoes. DELICIOUS. Dessert - Apfel (apple) strudel with vanilla sauce. Just wow. No wonder we are gaining weight! Hah.
Derek has been going through some periods of cultural, traditional and social connection here in Austria, especially. His father being from Holland, he finally understands why he grew up doing the things the way he did. It's incredible to feel like you 'belong' to a culture even if you didn't grow up in the country itself. In Canada, we all know there is no national identity, which has its pros/cons. We all come from somewhere else though and when we travel, people in other countries whose families have been there for hundreds of years, find it hard to wrap their head around the nature of our very young country. If my father's family originates from Lebanon, why can't I speak Arabic? Why can't Derek speak Dutch? I totally understand where they are coming from, we say our roots are in another country but what does that really mean? Yes, we have certain traditions and values instilled which are resonant of our 'mother country inhabitants' but we don't speak the language, live the daily life, understand the struggles entirely and why our families immigrated, don't necessarily eat/cook the same foods, family life is most likely different as well. Especially if your partner has a different background. On the other side of things, what would life be like for us if the family members that immigrated decided not to or had no opportunity. Obviously immigration has several challenges but it's all for the next generation to have a different (better?) life... Assimilation and loss of language and culture was unfortunately a side effect. Maybe I just mean we should learn more about where we come from and what that really means.
After our meal at the dining hall, we walked back along the river in the hot hot weather. McDonald's is the only spot near our apartment with wifi so we got a cold drink there and take advantage of the AC. We arrived back at the apartment and I ended up talking to Traudi, our host who told me she has been in remission for cancer for 4 years now... explains why she is so positive! Told me to enjoy life and never have regrets. What great advice to us... Sometimes we have a fleeting moment of 'what are we doing?' And it quickly passes. Especially when you have inspirational talks with women like Traudi or my amazing cousin, SueAnn who I had a fantastic talk with in the middle of the night and always gives encouragement to live your life fully. Derek and I have come to the conclusion that we aren't 'lucky' to be living our life the way we do, we are 'able' to live our life the way we do. We didn't allow barriers in our way that were within our control. We are young, healthy and made decisions to move all over eastern Canada in order to work to save what we needed with these goals in mind. Who knows what life has in store for us later but I don't think I've felt happier in my life at this point. Like I've mentioned before, working in healthcare at a young age was exactly what I needed to be doing in order to realize how I needed to live my life. Health is sacred and it's the one thing we possess that could be gone tomorrow. The number of seniors, patients, clients and staff that I have worked with that have regrets is incredible. Seniors regret working too much, not spending enough quality time with family and friends, not traveling or following their dreams... It hits home in the form of a living lesson.
The next day we said goodbye to our lovely host (she started to cry when we left...) and took a 7 minute train to the main station. Should have been straight forward except on this short train, we stop mid tracks for 20 minutes, then it backs up to the original station which caused us to miss all our connections. Apparently there was a police investigation being conducted at the next station. So. Instead of arriving to Bled, Slovenia at 2:30pm it was more like 8pm. Oh well! We arrived to our apartment which was so cute. The owners are a couple with an adorable 2 year old son. She's from Scotland and he was from Bled - I can see why she stayed... Breathtaking! It's not every day we get to a new spot and fall in love with it like we did in Bled. A town of about 5000 people, our spot was right behind the castle perched on a cliff overlooking the lake. We walked 5 minutes and were at the lake, a crystal clear light blue where you can see everything on the bottom. They have a 6km walking/biking path that wraps all the way around the lake. That was the first thing we did the next morning. BMW was hosting a rowing competition and local public schools were presenting their 'green initiative projects'. On one end of the lake, there's a tiny island with just enough room for the church that was built on it. Picturesque. After working up an appetite, we went to a local pizzeria called 'Rustica' - we forgot how close Slovenia is to Italy! Then it rained a bit so we hung at the apartment before venturing back out to the lake for another walk, gelato, and for Derek to jump off big rocks into the lake. That evening we walked up to the castle to watch the sunset... such a sight.
The next morning we rented a row boat and Derek rowed us over to the island to see the church and go for a swim. I could have totally rowed us but Derek wanted the exercise... Cough cough. The swim was amazing! Lunch was at Rustica again (wood fire pizza ovens cannot be denied!) and for the afternoon we walked along the river, lay on the grass and read our books. Rough day.
Dinner that evening was authentic Slovenian. We shared the 'jesprenj s suhim mesom' which is barley soup with dried meat (or basically pieces of ham) and bread on the side. Main courses (Derek) - 'popecena kranjska klobasa s kislim zeljem' which is grilled carniolan sausage with sauerkraut and (Laurie) - 'popecen gorenjski zelodec z zeljnato solato in jabolcnim rezinami' which is stuffed pork 'gorenjska' style with cabbage salad and apple slices. Dessert was the Slovenian classic at Slascicarma Smon cafe - kremna rezina (a layer of vanilla custard topped with whipped cream and sandwiched neatly between two layers of flaky pastry). I totally copied that definition from Lonely Planet. That tops off our last glorious night in Bled. Now we wish we had another week to spend in Slovenia. We hardly knew anything about this country (correction - knew nothing) and now I can't wait to go back!
The next day was another long travel day to Budapest by train, total of 13 hours door to door. We arrived at the train station and walked the 2km with all our bags to our apartment. Only $32/night at this one! Right off Andrassey utca (Road) and everything within walking distance. Or by our definition anyway! We walk on average 5km per day... Every day. I mean, we HAVE to eat the way we are or we would just be skin and bones!
Our first morning in Budapest we were off to a sour start by our own fault. We couldn't get groceries the night before for breakfast food so had nothing in the am and thought we could make it till lunch. Bad idea. I forgot for a fleeting second how cranky Derek gets when he's hungry, tired and hasn't had a coffee and how i basically go into a fog. Wowzas. So we ended up going to a restaurant Lonely Planet recommended but it was way too fancy for us but we didn't leave... The food was really good though ('marhaporkolt' - Hungarian goulash with homemade noodles and an awesome hamburger) but we felt we paid too much and the guy at the next table was a jerk. Didn't set the right mood. We attempted our own 'walking tour' of the city and realized we hate sightseeing if we know nothing about the history. After a good 4km walk further, we turned around and decided to recharge at 'Bar Bar Chocolate' cafe. I'm drooling just thinking about it. I got a iced dark chocolate drink and Derek got a lemonade. Ok, one thing Hungary is definitely doing really well is the lemonade. It's everywhere and equally as delicious. At this cafe, it's in a giant mason jar with wedges of lemons, limes, oranges, strawberries all crushed up with some added sugar. Yep. Making it this summer! Afterwards we found the massive market by the Danube river and felt like we could really love Budapest. It looked like an old train station with huge ceilings, 2 levels. The first level was where all the produce was sold, second level was food stalls, cafes, restaurants. We tried a Hungarian dish that was cut like lasagna but was shredded cabbage, rice, pork with tomato sauce. Cleaned that plate! Then we tried a langos which is fried dough topped with sour cream and cheese. Couldn't finish that one but it was also delicious! Very fried. Hah.
The next day we went to the Terror Museum. It is a building across the street where we stayed that was occupied by the Nazis during the war. It used to be called the 'House of Loyalty' and hundreds of people were murdered there. It was interesting yet so sad and terrifying. Old movies played in all the rooms of scenes during the war or interviews with survivors. At one point, there was a film being played and a woman in her 50's (won't mention where she's from) got up abruptly and said out loud in front of other people seated watching the film, 'no, I'm not into this one at all', then her husband gets up and asks 'is it 'cause it's not in color?' and she responds 'yep'. Ugh.
After the museum, we went back to the market to have lunch on the second floor at the restaurant instead of food stalls. It was really cool! Like a cafeteria style or 'self service' as many restaurants are here, you go up and choose from so many cooked foods! We got the Hungarian pork chops, fish, veggies, potato wedges, fresh lemonade and strudel for dessert! We walked along the Danube to see the memorial exhibit 'Shoes on the Danube' which is a sad and moving tribute to those who were killed at that spot and thrown into the river. Very difficult to imagine life at that time.
Afterwards, we realized we had about $7 leftover so used it to buy groceries for dinner and headed to our place for the evening.
On a side note, one thing I've noticed about some if these eastern countries is that many menus have 'breakfast' but doesn't include a lot if 'breakfast food items'. Instead you see people eating sandwiches, pizza, wraps at breakfast. Nothing wrong with it! You can eat pizza for breakfast, probably better in ways than pancakes!
Derek and I mulled over the pros/cons to urban and rural life and came up with lists but one thing we don't like about most urban centers is how it's so easy to ignore and neglect those who are most vulnerable and system has obviously failed. The homeless, drunk men in Budapest was like nothing I've seen before... It's very difficult to walk by and ignore that. There were many women as well but SO many men. Everyone has a story... I wonder how they were affected by the war? Like the man with no legs sitting outside the market begging for money... He was about 70 years old. How can we let that happen to those that need us most?
This morning we left for Vienna, Austria and here we laze. Tomorrow is a new day!